Wheat rust target of global effort

Norman E. Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the World Food Prize, recently gathered leading wheat experts from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe in Mexico to address the threat that stem rust poses to the world’s wheat supply.

The four-day Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2009 Technical Workshop was held in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico, just miles from where Borlaug developed the “miracle wheat” in the 1940s and 1950s that led to the Green Revolution and earned him the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for saving upwards of one billion lives.

While the scientists at the workshop reported significant progress in developing new varieties of wheat capable of resisting the dangerous new stem rust race known as Ug99, Borlaug stressed the need to move aggressively.

“Our scientists are making incredibly rapid progress, but we should have no illusions: a global food crisis is still a distinct possibility if governments and international institutions fail to support this rescue mission,” Borlaug said in a statement.

Borlaug was the first scientist to identify the danger posed by Ug99. At his urging, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (http://www.globalrust.org/) was established in 2007 to reduce the world’s vulnerability to the disease. According to BGRI, 90 percent of the all wheat varieties are susceptible to Ug99, an alarming number given that wheat provides 20 percent of the world’s calories.

The Mexico conference came just days before Borlaug’s 95th birthday on March 25. Borlaug, an Iowa native, founded the Des Moines-based World Food Prize in 1986 to inspire the breakthrough achievements needed to feed a hungry world. The $250,000 prize is awarded annually to individuals who have significantly improved the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world.

The World Food Prize also hosts an international symposium, gathering top minds in agriculture to discuss cutting-edge topics in global food security. The symposium was renamed the “Borlaug Dialogue” in 2006.

The 2009 Borlaug Dialogue will be held Oct. 14-16 in Des Moines and will address “Food, Agriculture, and National Security in a Globalized World.”

TAGS: Wheat
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